The Suitcase Lady


August 28, 2012, 10:25 pm

The present arrived in a bucket. Shortly after we moved to the country, a good friend visited and exclaimed, “I found the perfect plant for your meadow at our master gardener sale. It’s a …….. “. A senior moment ensued after which she said, “I can’t remember its name, but I know it belongs here.”

We proceeded to plant the mystery gift in front of our deck where it thrived.

Five years later, I was picking raspberries in my neighbor’s back forty when I spotted a huge stand of the mystery plant.

“What is that?” I asked.

“A cup plant,” my neighbor informed me, “and it loves our soil.”

The cup plant, formally known as Silphium perfoliatum, is an amazing specimen. Each summer it grows to over 6 feet tall with sturdy square stems about three quarter inch across. But the leaves are the best feature. Bigger than my hand, the leaves appear to be on opposite sides of the stem. A closer look reveals that the “leaves” are only one leaf  which wraps around the stem forming a perfect cup, a drinking dish for birds. The plant’s foliage hides the sipping birds from predators.

All summer we eat on the deck and watch the birds, especially goldfinches, visit. When summer ebbs and the yellow flowers bloom, the cup plant turns into a restaurant as well. Birds, butterflies and bees come for the seeds and nectar.

After thirteen years, our original plant is producing offspring. We now have baby cups springing up in a wide radius around their mother.

Stop by next spring if you would like your own cup plant. Just bring a bucket.

6 Comments for this entry

  • Patricia Bartosz on Facebook

    What a beautiful plant. Nature is amazing!

  • Jo Pie on Facebook

    These are lovely plants, and are they tall!

  • liz levins

    love my cup plant which sits next to my mailbox at the street.

  • Sandra Joseph

    I just discovered this method of response to your blog–I’m very excited!

    Just had to express my appreciation for your weekly message. It is always thought provoking, interesting and question inspiring. Maybe you can answer these: Did it take 13 years to develop the first off-shoots? What kind of soil do you have that makes it the ‘perfect soil’? How do I find out if I have perfect soil too. (If you can’t tell, I’m beyond ignorant when it comes to plants. If it’s green, I count it good and move on.)

  • Mary

    I’m so glad that you found it as well! Also note that to keep the blog enjoyable for all of us, I approve all the comments, thus protecting us form the crazy ones out there. So you will not see your comment pop up immediately.

    To answer your questions: Yes, our plant had a long, happy life as a single and didn’t send up new plants from her rhizomes for 13 years! Our front yard is basically a big sandbox with a little soil mixed in. Russ and I are not good gardeners so if this plant thrives for us, I’m sure it is a hearty plant!